ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE: MOTHER OF THE PRIDE by Catherine Muschamp, directed by Jean LeClerc, with Chapelle Jaffe. Presented by Coeur de Lion Company at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Runs to September 10, Monday-Saturday 8 pm. $23-$26, stu/srs discounts, Monday pwyc. 416-368-3110, www.totix.ca. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Some actors create characters that go beyond what's there in the script. Consider Chapelle Jaffe 's intelligent performance in the title role of Catherine Muschamp 's Eleanor Of Aquitaine: Mother Of The Pride .
Jaffe brings nuance and subtlety to even the brashest, most braying sections of the script, even though there are few opportunities for her to just tell the story.
Too bad, because it's quite a story. On trial for heresy in her early 80s, the former queen looks back on her life, which included leading troops into the Crusades while her wishy-washy first husband, Louis, floundered with his own army.
She later married Henry II and founded the Plantagenet dynasty in Europe even as distrust grew between them. Ultimately, Eleanor had the last laugh, outliving her second husband by 13 years and all but two of her children, dying at 83 in an era when the average lifespan was half that.
It's not for lack of material that Muschamp's script falters. It's backloaded sentences and overwrought prose that plague the production.
Jean LeClerc 's direction coaxes some life out of the script with stately stage elements and a nice use of light and costume. But some sound elements are questionable. The loud bell sounded after Eleanor lists each of her deceased children is clunky, and other sound cues are just plain silly.
Does the sound of clattering hooves need to accompany an account of a Crusade battlefield? Does a blasting trumpet fanfare need to mark Eleanor's entrance? Equally cheesy is Eleanor's final repose, wrapped in the blue and red banners of England and France. Would that we had fewer distractions and more of Jaffe's Eleanor in this production.